There's a certain sinking feeling that I get after looking into a film synopsis or hearing about a title through word of mouth, and realising that I didn't pick up on the fact that it's a found footage movie. As a genre I consider it to be pretty superfluous, since it takes away from what might have been some nicely constructed shots and detracts from the overall look of any film most of the time. The gimmick wore out its welcome a long time ago with Cloverfield and lives on through cheap horror features for some reason, I assume because of some misconceived attempt at "realism" or simply as a way to market lower budget films. Strangely it also crops up in stories outside of horror like Chronicle - which I managed to enjoy quite a bit but was constantly reminded of what things could have been without the distracting camcorder footage or the need to think of who is filming what throughout. Like that this is a sci-fi adventure which overcomes the shortfalls of the style and delivers an enjoyable "E.T. lite" story. If only they'd have dropped the gimmicks since there are many elements that work far better.
The derivative nature of the plot is actually the main draw here, as a group of young actors go on a journey to save an alien machine from shady agency workers disguised as construction workers. They provide some good performances and overall it does this kind of homage to children and aliens far better than say Super 8 which lacked a consistent tone by veering into darker material. Within the story itself the problem is the lack of a central character. While they are all presented as outcasts in some way or another it never maintains a focus on either the protagonists or their companion. Bits and pieces that might be considered characterisation show up along the way but it never rounds the cast out to make any one of them feel like the lead. The disjointed nature of how everything has been filmed may be the cause here but it could have been done better in some ways. At least a science fiction feature there are some neat visual effects and also a few good encounters with sinister officials and less than helpful towns people.
The issues with the choice of storytelling format are still the main problem however. For all its attempts to capture real life this is a technique that remains very un-immersive. Cameras, smartphones and even spy glasses are used in showing points of view and are linked into both the direction their journey takes and the recollective nature of the narrative. While it does work it is a constant distraction, with YouTube and Google Maps cropping up at various intervals to show information that is completely unnecessary. In the end they still manage to deliver a good natured tale of friendship and nostalgia even if like the mechanical nature of the space creature itself things can feel a little sterile at times.
THE BOXTROLLS (2014)
Laika animation studio is back with another horror based fantasy story which retains the intricate and sometimes grimy look of their previous releases. While it does in some ways repeat the message found in ParaNorman, by moving away from the modern world the film has an improved quality that allows for stranger visuals and a lot of creatures and contraptions. It still has a lot of strange charm and odd characters but is still essentially a plot about the type of monsters that don't come out from the sewers at night and are instead interested in personal gain. The voice casting is very good and the set pieces are all quite impressive, although It never reaches the sinister heights of Coraline. Perhaps getting so dark is something they are wary of revisiting again.